How to clean leather and suede

how to clean leather
How to clean leather and suedeCleardesign1 - Getty Images

From metallic leather skirts and boots to classic leather trousers and jackets, leather garments have enduring appeal, adding texture to an outfit and a dash of luxe to our wardrobes. However, real leather and suede clothing and accessories don't come cheap, so knowing how to care for them properly means you'll extend their lifespan and keep them looking their absolute best season after season.

Obviously, leather and suede garments are things we should never put in the washing machine but with the right know-how and products at your disposal, you can spruce them up and shift stains with confidence. Here are the GHI’s top tips for cleaning leather and suede.

Leather clothing

As with any garment, don't do anything before you check the care label.

Specialist cleaning

If an item is dry-clean or specialist-clean only, don't be tempted to try cleaning it yourself. Instead, call in the professionals!

Even if your leather garments aren't stained and don't look dirty, we'd recommend taking them to be professionally cleaned every three to four years, or as and when you think they need a refresh. A specialist cleaner should reapply a tint and oil, as necessary.

It’s good practice to apply a waterproofing spray like Liquiproof LABS Premium Protector Spray, or a balm such as Renapur Leather Balsam after leather has been cleaned.

Treating stains on leather

If there's no care label, if the care label says that specialist cleaning isn't a necessity or if there's a small stain on your garment that you're determined to try shifting yourself, try the following.

Either gently sponge the stain using a damp cloth that's been dipped in a solution of soapflakes and water then thoroughly wrung out, or use a proprietary leather cleaner, such as HG Deep Cleaner for Leather, following the instructions on the packaging. Whichever method you use, be sure to test it on an inconspicuous area first.

Follow up by gently wiping the area using a damp microfibre cloth that's been dipped in plain water then wrung out, and then hang the item up to air dry.

Under no circumstances should you immerse leather items in water.

how to clean leather
Navinpeep - Getty Images

Leather shoes and handbags

For everyday cleaning, applying shoe polish should be enough to keep leather footwear looking its best. Rub the polish in to the surface of the leather in a circular motion using a polishing cloth. This will cover immediate scuff marks and help maintain the colour.

If your shoes are sodden, leave them to air dry in an open, well-ventilated spot. Never leave them in front of a hot radiator as this can crack the leather. Instead, stuff with newspaper or use a shoe tree to help keep the shape. A waterproof spray or balm, like those mentioned earlier, can protect your shoes in the future.

Much of what we’ve said for shoes applies to handbags, but avoid using a coloured polish in this case because the colour could transfer onto other items. A proprietary leather cleaner can help deal with stains here too, but this should always be tested first. A leather conditioner, such as Beeswax Leather Conditioner Restorer & Polish, can restore leather items, if needed.

Suede clothing and accessories

For suede clothing, wipe dirt away with a clean, damp microfibre cloth and then leave to dry naturally. This can remove rain-spotting as well. Use a suede block or wire brush for everyday cleaning. Have the item specially cleaned for large stains and discolouration. A waterproof spray can help protect the item in the future, but make sure it’s suitable for use on suede and test in an inconspicuous area first.

For stained suede shoes, stick to soapy water and a nail brush, but never immerse your shoes in water. You can alternatively apply a proprietary suede shoe cleaner, such as The Leather Clinic Suede & Nubuck Cleaner Foam Cleaner. Once the stain is removed, carefully rinse with a damp cloth, but without saturating, and blot dry. Leave to dry naturally and use a suede brush to restore the pile of the suede when completely dry. Following up with suede waterproof spray can be useful here, too.

how to clean leather
Cleardesign1 - Getty Images


Unlike the other categories here, chamois can usually be hand washed but, again, check the item's care label first.

Mix a lukewarm solution of soapflakes with water, then squeeze the item in the solution to extract dirt. Rinse in warm water with 5ml of olive oil mixed in (this maintains the soft texture). Press and squeeze out the residual water (do not wring) and pull it to shape, then hang up to air dry. Keep it away from any heat sources and scrunch it regularly while it dries to encourage its flexibility.


This should be dusted with a soft cloth and polished with a patent leather conditioner as and when it dulls, such as Kaps Patent Leather Care Conditioner. When storing for the long-term, apply a layer of petroleum jelly to the surface to keep it in top condition. Do not store patent leather in very cold temperatures or it can crack. Newspaper and shoe trees can help prolong the shape for shoes.

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